Because Islam offers a unifying code of conduct we believe it can overcome civilisational differences, ethnic and social divisions, and the cultural divide that separates Muslims. However, there exists a greater divide between, say, Arabs and Berbers in Algeria and Arabs and non-Arab Black Muslims in the Sudan than between Muslims and non-Muslims in some countries.
This thought first occurred to me at the 1974 Islamic Summit in Lahore when I heard ZA Bhutto declaiming that “The armies of Pakistan are the armies of Islam….” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was listening to the speech must have felt sick. Nor could the protection Bhutto was offering have been very reassuring for Muslim countries considering what happened in Dhaka only a little while earlier. But Bhutto went on regardless – choosing, as always, unrestrained counterfeit emotions over the controlled expression of real ones.
Since then I have been present at enough sessions of Islamic Conferences (Lahore, Casablanca) and at similar Islamic jamborees at the UN (1978-1980) to know that when Muslim leaders resort to honeyed eloquence to stir the faithful with ineffable statements it’s time for the catnap some of us need to tide over the jet lag and the late nights. In fact, the greater the moral and intellectual slough into which the Ummah sinks, the more stirring the calls to action, so much so that a dream-like atmosphere soon suffuses the conference hall and make-believe reaches unprecedented heights. “All that is missing in the conference hall”, I mischievously remarked to Benazir Bhutto during a break in the OIC proceedings at Casablanca, “is son et lumiere and incense fumes to make it even more dreamlike”. BB stifled a chuckle.
But our fashionable professors of the art of directing souls and especially the lot who are adept in applying religion for the purpose of making men stupid don’t think so. They are convinced Islam can bring the TTP terrorists and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan together in one happy union. The fact that the two are waging a cruel war on each other and the latter is taking quiet satisfaction in the killing – alas, by a drone – of the TTP deputy leader who had a lot of innocent Pakistani blood on his hands, while the other is incensed and mourning his death, bothers them not a wit. Nor that our Islam and that of the TTP, which envisages a forcible unification of all Muslims, are irreconcilable.
Avenging Waliur Rahman Mehsud’s death will be the TTP’s foremost priority and, predictably enough, it has withdrawn their offer of talks made earlier this month. Because the TTP can do nothing much to harm the Americans they will likely kill yet more of their ‘enemies’ which, at the last count, includes Christians, Jews, Hindus, Ahmadis, Shias, Hazaras, sufis, select Sunni Muslims, atheists, members of Pakistan’s armed forces – all of us including women and children even though we are unarmed and defenceless.
Eventually, of course, the TTP will return to the table after its blood lust has been slaked if only because a halt in the fighting suits these militants to rearm, rest and get their act together for the next phase of fighting. An additional incentive is the opportunity to outwit the adversary, earn public kudos and sow discord in government ranks.
Leading the charge for a negotiated peace with the TTP militants are Pakistan’s two leading politicians – Nawaz Sharif and the Kaptaan himself. The latter’s role will be of an interested onlooker, in view of constitutional restraints placed on his handpicked chief minister (of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) from interfering in federal subjects such as defence and foreign affairs but he is already straining at the leash. He has demanded that drones be shot down. His stance has been consistent and is, of course, wildly popular.
Nawaz will have to do some straight talking with the Americans because he is committed to negotiating with the TTP and if the Americans are determined to prevent peace talks for their own selfish reasons he would be fully justified in resisting. Hence, I suspect, Nawaz will summon up the courage to speak forcefully to the Americans.
Midwifing (new word) Pak-TTP peace negotiations, and presumably playing a key role in the informal talks leading up to the formal exchanges, will be Maulana Samiul Haq and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman – at least that’s what they want us to believe. There’s little concerning these two maulanas that the Pakistani public is not aware of, in fact there is a good deal the public is aware of that it would have preferred not to know. However, if the two maulanas are able to bring about a dialogue, structured or not, which leads to an agreement, much of their (shady) past will be overlooked by a grateful public. And even though the possibility of that happening is little to nonexistent it doesn’t matter. They are right to try.
In a sense we are negotiating with the TTP with a gun to our heads – that is, if we want peace in the country. Finding herself in a similar position during the Falklands crisis in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher said that ‘defeat’ was not a word in her lexicon and immediately launched the risky British foray to drive the Argentineans out of the Falkland Islands. In our case we seem convinced defeat will be our fate if we do not take up the TTP’s offer of talks because victory, as says Imran Khan, is out of the question. That might sound like extremely defeatist talk but then that’s not surprising.
The Pakistani elite are mostly sober and clear-eyed realists. They do not always get carried away by emotions. That does not mean they are cold people. When it is safe to do so they enjoy genuine and unrestrained emotions but they tend to be concrete people, actually timid, and never allow their emotions to stray too far. Of course, they would prefer the world to be different: an Arcadia where the sheep could lie with the wolf but they know the world is an ugly place and will adapt themselves to its inviolable laws especially if a capitulation is disguised with ingenious and flattering explanations and accompanied by a fatwa by some errant cleric.
There are only a few left who will rather fight as a weaker enemy than join the winner. The number of such worthy and heroic people who will be willing to fight on the side of who they think is right but which public opinion knows will succumb in the end is understandably small in Pakistan, especially when it comes to matters of religion. In the end, therefore, unless the conservatives now at the helm of affairs at the centre, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa stand up it will boil down to a personal choice at which point the unravelling of Pakistan may begin.
In the words of Churchill it has to be:
‘Victory at all costs; victory in spite of all the terror; victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.’
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Armed forces , Militants , Politicians , Terrorists , Sheikh Mujibur Rahman , Waliur Rahman Mehsud , Nawaz Sharif , Algeria , Lahore , Dhaka , OIC , TTP , ZA